How Climate Anxiety Is Upending Business As Usual

Climate anxiety’s impact on consumer behavior goes beyond EVs and sustainable products

Richard Yao
IPG Media Lab


Created with Dall-E

The existential dread of ecological disasters has moved from the fringes of eco-pessimism to the mainstream consumer mindset. Per a survey conducted by Yale Climate Communication in fall 2023, Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not happening by a ratio of nearly 5 to 1 (72% versus 15%). More urgently, 46% of Americans think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming “right now,” and 43% say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.

As more Americans are confronted by the symptoms of a warming earth, a new form of anxiety is taking root in the minds of consumers: climate anxiety. This pervasive sense of unease, fueled by a barrage of news about wildfires, storms, and melting ice caps, is deeply felt today, especially amongst younger generations: per a 2023 Deloitte report, roughly 6 in 10 Gen Zs or millennials say they have felt anxious about the environment in the past month. Roughly the same percentage cite extreme weather events and wildfires as a stress driver.

Naturally, climate anxiety is also being reflected in their consumer behavior, with 69% of Gen Zs and 73% of millennials actively trying to minimize their impact on the environment through conscious decisions such as driving an electric vehicle, avoiding fast fashion, and eating a vegetarian diet.

Even still, climate change is a hyperobject that remains largely unmoved in the face of individual actions. Some believe that the key drivers of climate change — fossil fuel consumption, industrial agriculture, deforestation, and so on — are all systemic problems that call for systemic solutions; No single person’s decision to reduce their carbon footprint can meaningfully alter the global trajectory of climate change. Yet, time and time again, we see that when enough people change their behaviors, individual actions can cumulatively lead to significant cultural shifts, which, in turn, could spur the kind of systemic solutions that we need to combat climate change.

But here is the funny thing about human psychology: not everyone responds to anxiety and dread in the same way. Beyond these rather obvious ways in which consumers are making purchase decisions with a heightened environmental consciousness in mind, this growing sense of anxiety and uncertainty is driving some subtler behavior changes beyond simply buying more sustainable products or reducing carbon footprints.

Seeking Cooler Summers and Last-Chance Marvels

The growing sense of climate anxiety has led to some obvious changes in the travel sector. Google Flights started listing the estimated carbon emissions of each flight in 2021, and many hotels and tourism companies are prominently advertising new sustainability initiatives in response to climate-conscious travelers. Carbon offset programs, plastic bans, and eco-certification systems are also becoming popular as more consumers seek to reduce their travel footprints.

Yet, three less-discussed, but increasingly popular, travel trends are also directly tied to this mounting anxiety over the future of our planet:


In response to growing concerns over global warming and rising sea levels, “cool-cationing” has emerged as a fresh travel trend. This movement sees travelers pursuing trips to locations believed to be less affected by the severe consequences of climate change. Travel companies are quickly adapting, offering trips to icy locales like Iceland, New Zealand, and Antarctica, marketing these as “climate havens.” Expeditions that were once niche or extreme — voyages to the polar ice caps, treks through Patagonia, or tours of the fjords of Norway — are now trickling into the mainstream. The so-called “polar travel market” is projected to reach $2 billion by 2031, growing at an estimated CAGR of 10.28% from 2023–2031.

This trend of “reverse snowbirding” subverts the conventional ideal vacation spots, with palm trees and sunny beaches, swapping those tropical destinations for places with more temperate climates that offer a reprieve from droughts, wildfires, and scorching temperatures. The summer heat waves across Europe in recent years also reinforce the idea that it’s better to seek comfort in cooler locales, as those destinations promise to offer a soothing stability against the backdrop of increasingly extreme weather patterns.

Last-Chance Tourism

Parallel to the rise of cool-cationing is the surge in “last-chance trips,” driven by a compelling urge to visit endangered destinations before they potentially disappear forever due to climate change. Marvelous sights like the dying Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the sinking city of Venice, and the shrinking Glacier National Park, all at the forefront of climate change effects, are drawing visitors eager for one last glimpse.

While somewhat macabre, this trend underscores a profound sense of environmental loss propelling people to act. The drive to visit these places is not merely for leisure but stems from a desire to bear witness to these natural wonders first-hand as a poignant acknowledgment of their fragility. This urgency adds a new dimension to travel, transforming what could be a standard vacation into a pilgrimage of observation and appreciation.

Paradoxically, the resulting increase in tourist traffic to these vulnerable areas can exacerbate the very problems that threaten them, raising ethical questions about the impact of tourism on already stressed environments. There’s a growing acknowledgement that “last chance tourism” should be about much more than snapping a few photos before an environment is forever altered, but rather about forging deeper personal connections and stewardship over the imperiled places we numbly read about in news headlines.

No-Flight Travels

Flying is weird right now, as Charlie Warzel pointed out in a recent piece for The Atlantic. Despite the rarity of flight incidents, recent mishaps involving United Airlines and Boeing planes have heightened public concern around flight safety. The deteriorating flight experiences due to pandemic-related industry challenges, including staff shortages and increased passenger volumes, also doesn’t help with public perception. Add in the fact that air travel is among the least environmentally sustainable modes of transportation, no wonder many are starting to avoid flights in favor of terrestrial adventures closer to home.

While air travel faces headwinds, the luxury rail experience is experiencing a romantic revival spurred both by its eco-friendlier credentials and slowdown appeal. Grand cross-continental odysseys like the Orient Express and Rocky Mountaineer have seen a surge in interest in tandem with growing climate concerns. From “hotel railcars” to opulent whisky tasting tours, the high-end rail experience has become a status symbol for eco-conscious indulgence without the flight shame.

More broadly, there’s been an uptick in “immersive journeys” optimized for slow, overland travel that replaces jetsetting between destinations. The primary appeal is basking in the journey between iconic sites as much as the endpoints themselves. Lingering through countryside villages, sampling local cultures, and absorbing environments at a low-emissions pace has become a new aspirational, eco-conscious travel experience. Some may even count the rise of “staycations” or “backyard vacations,” which tend to be driven more by financial imperatives, as part of this growing trend of travel without flying. What was once seen as a less desirable option due to economic constraints is now viewed as an environmentally friendly choice.

Overall, these three travel patterns reflect a complex psychological landscape as individuals navigate the realities of tourism in the age of climate crisis. As the planet’s climate issues become more pressing, these trends offer insights into the evolving priorities and choices of travelers, highlighting a collective determination to find balance between exploration, conservation, and sustainability.

Looking ahead, the heightened awareness of climate issues may converge with our increasingly sophisticated weather technology to impact travel decisions. For example, Nvidia’s new “Earth Climate Digital Twin” offers a glimpse into the future of AI-enabled long-term climate forecasting. The core of this innovation is the CorrDiff generative AI model, which uses advanced diffusion modeling techniques to produce high-resolution simulations and visualizations of global climate and weather trends. Theoretically, this technology could enable more informed decisions, highlighting safer and environmentally stable locations. New travel hotspots may emerge as traditional ones face climate challenges, and destinations might invest more in climate resilience to remain attractive.

Home as a Climate-Resistant Sanctuary

Beyond travel, climate anxiety is also subtly altering consumer behavior at home. On a macro level, uncertainty about the future is reshaping where and how people live, catalyzing a new era of home purchasing decisions aimed at fortifying homes against a chaotic world outside. On an individual level, more people are seeking peace of mind from intensifying weather threats like wildfires, hurricanes, air pollution, and other environmental calamity. The “climate shelter” is evolving from fringe survivalist obsession to mainstream priority, upending traditional home desires and birthing a booming ecosystem of residential climate-resistance products and services.

Indoor Edens

Perhaps the most visceral manifestation of this housebound shift is spiking demand for premium indoor air quality and environmental control systems. No longer just a convenience amenity, HEPA filters, air purifiers and smart climate controls have become vital safeguards against atmospheric hazards for the climate-concerned.

This trend has birthed a new wave of aesthetics-driven home products, promising a comforting illusion of “dometic utopias” sealed off from outdoor conditions. For example, the Yeelight Pro P20 Rooflight ceiling panel, which we encountered at CES this year, is emblematic of this new product category seeking to alleviate climate anxiety through artificial environmental simulation. When apocalyptic orange skies from wildfire smoke or air pollution become the new normal in some regions, having the ability to sustain a sense of atmospheric normalcy naturally becomes incredibly psychologically appealing.

Somewhat related, there’s also a rising trend of extensive “nature-scaping” within houses in the luxury home market — creating interior artificial landscapes like rock features, water features, butterfly gardens and representations of various climate biomes throughout different rooms. Sensory gardens have been surging in popularity, with Zillow listings mentioning sensory gardens or pathways up 314% in 2024 compared to last year. At their core, all these new trends tap into powerful biophilic instincts while shielding from taxing climate realities.

The Fortress Mentality

Home security and generator companies have similarly benefitted from upticks in climate-driven threat perception. Thus, a “fortress mentality” has emerged with buyers bracing residential spaces for worst-case scenarios potentially powered by climate volatility. Housing features that once seemed fringe survivalist are now must-haves for families feeling deeply exposed.

For example, backup power generators experiencing major sales bumps in wildfire and hurricane zones, not just during outages but in expectation of future unreliable grid scenarios. ​​Products like Goal Zero’s new Haven system showcase affordable lithium battery storage solutions homeowners can easily install to provide backup power amid increasing climate-fueled grid failures from extreme weather events, such as the huge 2021 Texas freeze that knocked out power for a million.

This is especially worth noting because researchers say solar power is getting so good that homeowners could start quitting the power grid, and Vermont’s utility company is exploring giving customers batteries instead of installing over the ground power lines. With advances in battery technology, electric vehicles could one day also become a backup power source. For example, Ford is partnering with smart thermostat maker Resideo to explore using energy stored in an EV to regulate the temperature at home.

Adopting Climate-Resilient Tech for Home

A major front in this domestic climate resistance is the adoption of specialized home technologies engineered for resilience and self-reliance against climate stresses. From atmospheric water harvesters to indoor gardens and weather-proofed smart home controls, homeowners are accessorizing for worst-case scenarios.

On the frontline of innovation, startups are experimenting with sustainable homegrown solutions like indoor aeroponics towers for food self-sufficiency and decentralized water treatment systems recycling household greywater into drinking reserves, as climate-resilient innovation merges cautions taken against climate change with a growing sense of tech-driven self-sufficiency. For example, the Reencle, a small home composter that we encountered at CES, can turn food waste into fertile soil in 24 hours, allowing homeowners to process scraps indoors without the compost’s characteristic odor and facilitate a closed circular ecosystem at home.

As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, the collective response has been not just to adapt, but to reimagine the concept of home as a bastion of safety, comfort, and resilience in the face of environmental uncertainty.

Climate Anxiety Beyond Travel & Home

Of course, climate anxiety is not only confined to travel and home categories. Its impact on consumer behavior will be deeply felt across all categories. In semi-public spaces like stores, cafes, restaurants, and gyms, the aforementioned climate-resilient technologies that are popping up at home will likely proliferate into these commercial establishments as well. Ditto on the idea of creating a sanctuary for escaping, however temporarily, the worsening weather outside. In its latest store renovation, Tiffany’s NYC flagship store installed faux windows that are actually video displays fitted inside arched cutouts. The high-end jeweler aims to cocoon shoppers in a meditative, weather-independent atmosphere — a reprieve from climate calamity.

Simultaneously, a growing consumer appetite for “climate-proof” comfort foods and nostalgic favorites has led to surging demand for canned goods and shelf-stable indulgences offering a taste of stability amidst tumultuous change. Conspicuous consumption of perishable luxury ingredients has lost some luster to dependable, non-spoiling sustenance.

Whatever the manifestation, industries across the board are evolving to cater to a new breed of customer preoccupied with minimizing exposure to environmental risk factors. As climate anxiety compounds, this phenomenon of seeking escapism and self-sufficiency will only intensify, reshaping consumer expectations and business strategies.